Phife Dawg:Leadership Without Even Knowing It
Trill or Not Trill?


I’ve sat through countless interviews for Orientation Leader and Resident Assistant positions. In many of those meetings, students have asked me about the most important aspect of those positions. The question of, what’s the best part of being either of these jobs consistently comes up. I always tell them, it’s about being memorable. The great OL’s and RA’s are never forgotten. 5 or 10 years after graduation you’ll run into someone who says, “you were my RA or Orientation Leader.”

I once had a friend tell me years later that my intervening in a situation as his RA during his first year, changed his life. He said that I stopped him from getting into a fight, that could have potentially got him kicked out of school. I barely remembered that whole occurrence. I’ve often overheard students say that their Orientation Leader was the reason they first fell in love with their college. You just never know.

So, the year was 1993 when the song Electric Relaxation hit the radio. At that time I was a young Haitian American living in Queens, New York; also home of A Tribe Called Quest. That year Haitians were still getting a bad rap (no pun intended) not only in the media but also in the hallways of my school. We were still getting called boat people. We were still being tied to HIV. We were still being subject to insults and negative stereotypes. Don’t get it twisted, there was tumblr_m9sek96vwD1r213yfo1_400never a moment of false pride within our household but outside was a different story. I knew plenty of classmates who would hide the fact that they were Haitian. Then there was that Phife verse. He spit one of my favorite lines of all time. I like em Brown, Yellow, Puerto Rican and HAITIAN. When he said “And Haitian,” I lost it. Before Wyclef and the Fugees made being Haitian cool in Hip Hop, that line was there. It created a space for me to be comfortable about my culture in front of everyone. A few more folks started reppin outwardly. We learned that verse in its entirety, because of the dopeness and of course as a reminder to everyone about how trill we were.

Phife might not have known his impact. In fact, he might not have meant anything by it. We would defend that line by saying, well he could have just said Asian or Basian but nah, it was about us. This minor bar held a significance that certainly impacted me. I’ve been singing it ever since.

This, my friends, is a sign of leadership. When you’re so consistently dope, you will drop trill gems without even knowing it. You’ll be influencing someone by accident, all the time. The lights are always going to be on and you must be able to shine when things are at their darkest and brightest. If you’re a student and thinking about applying to be an Orientation Leader or Resident Assistant, recognize the importance of these positions. The impact is realer than you’ll ever expect.There will be lives you change without even knowing it, so always stay on top of the game.
RIP Phife. A lyrical leader, for sure. Always On Point.

Stay trill, folks.

MrJeffDess is a writer, professor, public speaker and emcee of Haitian descent. He is an author of 4 books of poetry, including his latest, Deconstructing Ratchet. With over ten years of performing and student affairs experience under his belt MrJeffDess continues to strive towards helping students reach their highest potential. For booking information, contact MrJeffDess at